Colors Insulting to Nature: A Novel

Colors Insulting to Nature: A Novel

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by Cintra Wilson

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Look deep into your heart, Gentle Reader. Deep, deep, deep; past your desire for true love, for inexhaustible riches or uncontested sexual championship, for the ability to fight crime and restore peace to a weary world. Underneath all this, if you are a true, red-blooded American, you'll find the throbbing desire to be famous.

Liza Normal wants fame worse than

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Look deep into your heart, Gentle Reader. Deep, deep, deep; past your desire for true love, for inexhaustible riches or uncontested sexual championship, for the ability to fight crime and restore peace to a weary world. Underneath all this, if you are a true, red-blooded American, you'll find the throbbing desire to be famous.

Liza Normal wants fame worse than air, food, sleep, or self-preservation. Her talents are slim, but she's been raised on a crash diet of Hollywood "I-can-do-it!" mythology, game-show anthems, and Love's Baby Soft–scented teen dreams. According to the delusional logic inherent in these value-starved sources, the key to Making It Big as a pop star is to simply want it badly enough and Believe in Yourself (and to follow the B-movie template for becoming one of life's golden winners — see page 20). And so, innocent Liza's disco-ball fantasies are bowled down the yellow brick road, on a direct collision course with that whirling hall of hammers: Reality. She endures a wretched series of mishaps on the road to failure: disastrous love affairs, scorching humiliations. But Liza, a far better human than the two-dimensional starlet she thinks she wants to be, is indestructible.

In Colors Insulting to Nature, Cintra Wilson has fused ahilarious yet strangely touching coming-of-age story with a blistering satire of our celebrity-debased culture. In a world where unknowns compete to wear their ethical pants around their ankles on TV, where actors become presidents and plucky American Idols claw their way to stardom over the corpses of the dreams of a million wishful losers, Colors Insulting to Nature shocks us into seeing ourselves as we truly are, not as we think we look when we make that French pout face in the mirror. Not since John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, Martin Amis's Money, or, yes, Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel has an antihero peeled away the lamination of our society with such savage glee and empathy. Laugh, cry, cringe with self-recognition: Colors Insulting to Nature is a brilliant achievement.

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Editorial Reviews

Harper's Bazaar
“Hilarious…You’ll wince at Liza’s outlandish humiliations along the way, but it won’t stop you from laughing out loud.”
Us Weekly
“Hysterical…[Colors Insulting to Nature] takes us on a wacky trip to the heart of our celebrity-obsessed culture.”
“A send-up of the celebrity obsessed by the woman who wrote the book on fame.”
“Wilson cranks out the zingers.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“A first novel from the Dorothy Parker of the Cyber Age.”
The Oregonian (Portland)
“Riotous and harrowing … an impressive, maybe even great, comic novel.”
New York Times Book Review
“Cintra Wilson [is] the thinking woman’s David Foster Wallace...with the most action packed sentences in the biz.”
Publishers Weekly
Playwright and Salon columnist Wilson made a name for herself four years ago with her essay collection, A Massive Swelling. In her raucous, hilarious debut novel, she covers similar ground: the ugly side of fame and America's unhealthy obsession with celebrity. The dark Gen-X fairy tale follows the adventures of Liza Normal, a would-be starlet with far more ambition than looks or talent. Saddled with a frightening stage mother, Peppy, Liza-"not a girl ruled by the logic of self-preservation"-endures humiliation after humiliation as she acts in an unintentionally campy family musical, turns punk, dates a drug dealer and a washed-up boy band member, goes to rehab and tries unsuccessfully to make it big in Hollywood. The indefatigable Liza finally triumphs in Las Vegas, creating a stage show based on a character from the softcore slash fiction she's written throughout her travails. Wilson goes out on a limb with her verbal extravagance, and readers may find her post-Eggers postmodern asides to the audience (whom she calls "Young Readerlings") and fancy fonts a bit too-too. But her spirited sendup of celebrity worship is laugh-out-loud funny. Agent, Bill Clegg. (Aug. 13) Forecast: Wilson's public persona is as flamboyant as her writing, and the novel should garner plenty of media attention, though it may be a more challenging sell than A Massive Swelling. Five-city author tour. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Fresh from cult success with the essay collection A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-examined as a Grotesque, Crippling Disease, columnist Wilson delivers a related first novel. Colors follows Liza Normal from her first excruciating pop star auditions under the guidance of her ambitious mother, Peppy, to her realization that success has many guises, most of which are not found in Hollywood. This formula fits her brother, Ned, a reclusive artist who inadvertently gains fame, and Peppy, whose disastrous forays into theater and men finally work out. Like Blake Nelson's Girl, this work is a giddy and poignant crash course in growing up, complete with sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll. Wilson has a loose and overstated writing style, which when she maintains the novel's breakneck speed has hilarious and clever results. Ironically, it is when she reverts to her essayist self, inserting her own voice and lengthy exegeses on pop cultural landmarks, that the pace lags. In those ponderous moments we almost lose sight of our quirky heroine, who (refreshingly) is anything but. Recommended for most collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/04.]-Prudence Peiffer, Cambridge, MA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Overwrought debut of a teenager's messy attempts to achieve showbiz celebrity. Wilson has debunked the cult of celebrity before, in her equally overwrought essay collection A Massive Swelling (2000). Here, the prime culprit is Peppy Normal, whose showbiz aspirations haven't taken her beyond a topless juggling act in Reno. The movie Fame is an eye-opener, and Peppy's mission now is to propel her two kids to stardom. Ned proves a lost cause but Liza is more malleable, though hardly more talented. We first see her looking like an "underage sex-clown" as she auditions for a TV commercial. It's the early 1980s, and Peppy has moved the family into an abandoned firehouse in the Bay Area, ideal for amateur theatricals-the opening production of Sound of Music is so abysmal it becomes a camp hit. Meanwhile, Liza, loud, unstable and seriously uncool, is struggling with high school. Early on, she will willingly lose her virginity to her classroom tormentor in a supply closet. Wilson's idea is to put Liza through the wringer, and she does it in prose that lurches from one gaudy hyperbole to another. Liza develops a monster-size crush on ChoCho, a Superfly drug dealer who might, in her addled judgment, be her stairway to the stars. Even though she drops out, the scenes she moves on to are high school writ large: drugs, cliques, insecurities. That goes both for the Haight, where she has a bad acid trip while living with would-be elves, and for Tinseltown, where she betrays her friends and tries to kill herself (like Peppy, years before). Her lack of autonomy might not matter if Wilson brought a fresh eye to these familiar venues, but she really doesn't. She does ease up on Liza, however, allowing her asuccessful act in Vegas as "an icon of camp depravity."Wilson's ambition to be a memorable satirist of pop culture is thwarted by her high-decibel prose: she needs to bring the volume down, way down.

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.17(d)

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